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Good Beer Hunting

Jul 21, 2017

We’re a little over two months since Wicked Weed, one of the nation’s most popular and ambitious sour beer producers, was acquired by AB InBev in a sale that set the beer world on edge. Indeed, it seemed to push many people over the edge, galvanizing craft beer’s hardcore base against AB while others started reconsidering the future of craft beer, from its definitions and divisions to even the future of their own breweries and customers.  Since then, AB InBev itself has seemed to get a bit on edge with the release of the Brewers Association “independence” seal. Despite the fact that the seal was reportedly in the works for more than two years, the timing of its release seemed to add fuel to the fire of an imminent crisis point between BA-defined craft brewers and those who had passed over the threshold into just being brewers of craft beer.  In response, AB's High End group, which is a portfolio populated by those acquired craft brewers, many of whom have maintained their posts, are now part of a strategic and creative leadership team for AB. They created a somewhat impromptu video response to the BA encouraging them to think about the overall health of the beer category, which is indeed shrinking, as a result of increased competition from wine and spirits. Unity was their call, rather than division. And that, depending on your scale, priorities, and opinion of AB InBev, is either prescient or absurd.  Needless to say, it’s been a wild couple of months for craft beer. This barely scratches the surface, really. But relevant to today’s guest, that’s more than enough context for what makes this interview both timely and interesting to me.  Today, I’m talking to Luke Dickinson of Wicked Weed. Luke is the less-exposed, less-publicized brother of Walt Dickinson. This starts as a story of siblings, Luke being the quiet one who was initially inspired to start a brewing career based on his time at Dogfish Head, and Walt being the more entrepreneurial type who saw Luke’s vision for what was meant to be a nano brewery on paper, and consistently found opportunities to finance and scale the concept for Wicked Weed into the force it is now, including the sale to AB InBev, alongside the Guthys, a very successful, Asheville-based business family they’ve known since they were children.  Talking to Luke, the story of Wicked Weed comes to light as a sort of humble concept that created its own vortex of growth and a series of can’t-say-no kind of opportunities. It’s a story of what happens when a single idea gets dispersed amongst four other partners, each with their own skill sets, resources, and ambitions. And if nothing else, it tells a story of how two brothers can challenge and motivate each other into unknown—and what remains still a somewhat-unknown territory.  Before we begin, I wanted to give a couple shoutouts. First to Marco from Craft Commander down in Florida and Artisan & Apprentice, two blogs whose interviews with Luke some time ago served as great primary resources for some of the things we talk about today. It’s amazing how much craft brewing history has been captured by writers all over the country in the last five years, and we appreciate what you do so much.